Reader Concerned SIL writes,
My sister-in-law who is 20 years old recently announced that she is pregnant and in her second trimester. She is a college student and living with her much older boyfriend. My husband and I have met him and are not really fans. He is standoffish, answers questions with one word answers and I have a suspicion that he may be controlling. When she announced her pregnancy it was at a party that was being held for our son. She basically walked up to my husband and me, interrupted our conversation and blurted out in front of our friends that she was pregnant. I feel that the timing and delivery were not appropriate and frankly it was embarrassing.
The nature of the announcement points to her immaturity and has me worried about her ability to manage finishing school, caring for a baby and navigating her very adult situation. My husband and I are about 15 years older than my sister-in-law and though my in-laws are around, the responsibility for support and guidance during this time will fall squarely on my husband and me. Please let me know the best way that we can prepare her. We plan to have a meeting with her and her boyfriend and I need help with what to say. I want to lead with responsibility and not let my frustration with the situation take over.
I understand why you feel anxious about your sister-in-law's capacity to parent. I get that you love her and are worried for her and her baby. But, I think you may not be going about this best way. Whether or not you like her boyfriend is immaterial. What you need to do for her now is support her unconditionally. She is pregnant, and there is no going back now. If your sister-in-law perceives that you think she will be an unfit mother, she is likely to be resentful and detach from you entirely, in which case you won't even be able to help or guide her.
The first thing I would recommend is reaching out to the couple (and they are a couple, so treat them as such!) in a warm and celebratory way. After all, you're going to be an aunt! If you "have a meeting" and "lead with responsibility," picture how they will feel from their perspectives. They will think you're being self-righteous, holier-than-thou, annoying, and accusatory. This will not make them likely to listen to even valid points that you may have about the situation. If you come off as accepting, warm, and loving, this will make any subsequent interactions go much better.
You and your husband need to reach out to his sister and her boyfriend, be happy that the baby is coming, and only give help that is asked for. Otherwise you run the risk of being intrusive and judgmental. If you make yourself open and available for your sister-in-law, she will be able to ask you for help without feelings of shame, and the fear that you are judging her and even disliking her and her boyfriend.
I would change your proposed "meeting" into a "celebration." If the parents-to-be have questions or need help, they will ask if they feel comfortable. Absolutely nothing positive can be gained by coming down hard on your sister-in-law. Think about whatever qualities she has that would make her a good mother, and focus on those, saying them out loud to her. Do the same for her boyfriend, even if it takes a lot of effort. She is in the second trimester, so she doesn't have many options except keeping the baby or giving it up for adoption. If she does the latter, it needs to be her idea and choice entirely, or she may always resent you for directing her in that way. And if she keeps it (more likely from how you phrased your question), you want her to be able to come to you for help, right? She will only do this if she thinks of you as safe, understanding, and empathic.
This is tough, but you can do it. Picture your little niece or nephew and lead with love and positivity. Good luck, and until we meet again, I remain, The Blogapist That Thinks You Can Help The Most By Just Loving Her.
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